Heading to Maui to present his “Spiritually Incorrect” one-man show on November 11, Alan Clements has been lauded as “a spiritually comedic provocateur.”
A radical, passionate, eloquent former Buddhist monk – the first American ordained as a Buddhist monk in Burma – Clements is a human rights activist and author who was described by Jack Healy, former director of Amnesty international, as “one of the most important and compelling voices of our time.”
Born in Boston in 1951, his books include “The Voice of Hope” with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, which former US President Jimmy Carter praised as, “a message the world should hear;” “Burma’s Revolution of the Spirit,” featuring a forward by the Dalai Lama; and “Instinct For Freedom: A Maverick’s Guide to Spiritual Revolution.” His most recent work, “A Future to Believe In – 108 Reflections on the Art and Activism of Freedom,” was published in 2012. Peace activist Dr. Helen Caldicott called it, “a magnificent and courageous book.”
Imagine Noam Chomsky mixed with Lenny Bruce and Terrence McKenna and you get a sense of Clements’ brilliant and deliciously irreverent, stream-of-consciousness performance.
Our interview covers psychopaths, Donald Trump, North Korea, Burma, the abuse of power, and the role of a spiritual activist.
Question: The promo for your show includes the quote – “Trump, ISIS and the globalization of corporate totalitarianism. Are they the same?” That’s quite a provocative grouping.
Answer: “These concepts create the most provocation for me. I look at the similarities of these types of mass hypnosis. I’ve studied totalitarianism in Burma. I’ve looked at it in war zones in Yugoslavia. I’ve seen indoctrination and a mass hypnosis of a wrongly placed mindfulness that makes unmindful, mindful sheep. It doesn’t mean you’re awake because you’re mindful.
“I’ve been coming back to Maui since 1971 and to me it’s the epicenter of transformational wisdom. On November 11 we will have an organic, group, entheogenic experience that illuminates a freedom beyond projection and blame, and find new structures within our own minds collectively and individually, to become provocative expressions of resistance and compassion and radical wisdom in action. “I’m hoping to create a 90 minute organic ayahuasca experience. I’m into illuminating what is often unseen to provoke more empowered thoughts.
“A key figure in my life is Harriet Tubman (the American abolitionist and humanitarian) who was this great embodiment of freedom and courage in action as a slave taking her black brothers and sisters across the border into Canada. The show for me is really how do we access our own archetypal incarnation of a Harriet Tubman so that we individually and collectively do what she did. How do we go beyond these forms of mass hypnosis and come out of the slavery of these ideologies and walk into the uncultness of freedom.
“We’re looking to find how to stop the convenient demonization of Bush and Trump and the Republican Party and all political parties.
“Harriet Tubman had to carry a pistol on that journey to Canada to confront fear, (and stop weak hearted slaves from) going back into slavery. What’s the modern day pistol for a freedom fighter? The most unspoken weapon is the power of love. I know it sounds corny but I really believe the more of us that stand in radiant solidarity to the power of love we show an option to people other than hatred, bigotry, racism and xenophobia.
“When I met Aung San Suu Kyi and we did a book together, “The Voice of Hope,” she made a point to me when I asked her what is the essence of this thing you call spiritual revolution? It’s the courage to care about things larger than our own self interest. What we’re empowering here is the power of unconditional loving kindness. And even in the face of dictatorship, she said, do not condemn them, they know not what they do. Only point out their shortcomings and show them a pychological and emotional option. She said lead with the power of love, and I think that’s exactly what we’re asking ourselves to do today.
“When I think of the word empowerment it’s to live in a different modality that the powers that be would like us to be defined by – which is fear. And to give away our precious psychic and physical and emotional energy and continue to condemn them.
“Obviously there’s the threat of North Korea and the insanity of Kim Jong Un and the equal insanity of President Trump and this face off with articles circulating about what happens to the residents of Hawaii if in fact, highly unlikely, there’s a nuclear attack. What an over the top existential threat that is.
“The Human Rights Foundation in Oslo has a global action – Flash Drives for Freedom – with USB drives for freedom. They have boards put up in key cities of Kim Jong Un’s face and people can stick USB drives in his mouth and put all kinds of democratic and liberal things on the drives offering an alternative to the lies of totalitarianism. They are being taken into North Korea on drones (and balloons) and dropped into the population. It’s a genius action.
“We can become organic USB ports of liberty. We can become expressions of the highest values of universal human rights. That’s what activism can look like today if we become empowered expression of fearlessness and liberty in action.”
Q: Are you familiar with the work of the late Polish psychologist Andrzej Lobaczewski, who researched psychopaths in totalitarian regimes. While conventional psychology estimates that psychopaths make up only about 1% of a nation’s population, Lobaczewski posits a higher percentage and that people with psychopathic disorders are rife in the higher echelons of politics, the military and business.
A: When I was in Yugoslavia for the final year of the war I was in Sarajevo just days after Srebrenica and the mass execution of 8,000 Muslim men and boys. A friend of mine was working for the United Nations and seeing these mass graves really drove home to me a fundamental truth in relationship to what you just brought up about the percentage of pathology and the potential for committing violence in this world. I felt that unless I had unremitting confidence in my own hardened soul that I could commit the crimes I was protesting.
“As much as I would like to think of myself as a non-violent freedom fighter I felt that when I was existentially transparent with my heart there would be limits to what I would accept and I would perhaps violate the other in the ways in which the violations took place in Yugoslavia. So the Kim Jong Un in me was perhaps still there. The Donald Trump in me, as hard as it is to even utter that concept, and the George Bush in me, the psychopath is it still alive in me? I would say probably so.
“This is what has led me to the power of the entheogenic, organic self-reflection, the meditative filter. My (Buddhist) teacher who died, he counseled Aung San Suu Kyi as her spiritual advisor for 30 years. There is one act in the world of activism – that is to conquer your own fear, to conquer your own anger, to conquer your own delusion; not to conquer other people. That is the expression of non-violence in action, to uproot violence from your psyche.
“From 2003 the American military killing machine took on Iraq and 500,000 Iraqis are dead as the result. Millions were displaced and traumatized, with close to 10,000 American soldiers killed and hundreds of thousands traumatized. And look at the kind of violence in our society born from that kind of violence, all based on lies for the sake of oil. Talk about a mass expression of psychosis.
“Look at the horror under Assad in Syria. 11 million refugees and millions more displaced people with new classifications of trauma called human devastation syndrome, where kids who lose arms or legs and almost all their relatives and are not even speaking, who sleep five to seven days at a time, they are so disorientated by the horrors. (Neuropsychologist Dr. Mohammad K. Hamza created the term for Syrian children so traumatized there was no existing category to describe what they were suffering)
“By and large Donald Trump is simply the avatar of a culture drunk on the amphetamine of denial, extreme greed, and projection. One of the hardest things for us to really face is how am I complicit with the ongoing sleep machine?
“This is why I come back to the greatest empowerment that I can see, perhaps one of the most spiritually correct concepts, is the unrelenting power to reclaim our projection, dive deep into the psyche, and do what we can to become non-violent activists within our own consciousness. That’s the essence of my show – to walk out and say yes to freedom and no to blame.”
Q: Our talk turned to the abuse of power by authority figures in various realms including spiritual teachers and Hollywood moguls.
A: When you look at the collective rape of other cultures around the world Harvey Weinstein is like a small fish to the bigger issue for me. Where is the outcry for the genocide and ongoing denigration of this homicidal economy that results in the possibility of near term extinction? Just as he ran roughshod over women, how is this culture of ours running roughshod over other cultures? That is the real issue today, because time is running out. Scientists are talking about irreversible climate change.
“Men should not be allowed to be in positions of power. Men should be barred from political office, they should be barred from religious duties, and they should undergo carefully orchestrated ayahuasca treatments on Maui. We should invite Mr. Trump to Maui to do a high dose of ayahuasca, to transcend his misogyny, fear and pathology.”
Q: The Dalai Lama has said, “I consider human rights work or activism to be a kind of spiritual practice. Ghandi said, “You have to do the right thing.” Then there’s advaita teacher Robert Adams who said, “Just being involved in a movement trying to make this world a better place in which to live keeps you back. Your first and main job is to awaken.”
A: That’s probably true and not true. In my experience living in Burma under a dictatorship the prisons were filled with political prisoners and there was torture and mass rape. In my 20 years of interviewing political prisoners and what motivated them to go to prison to face torture and potential rape rather than be complicit with the machinery of totalitarianism, they chose awakening, but they also chose through action to go arm in arm in solidarity with other people around the country and protest the machinations of totalitarianism. Awakening is one thing but to awaken in context so we’re not just individuals. We are immeasurably embedded in a context the least of which is we breathe the same air. The air in Shanghai will affect the air in Wailuku. We’re intimately interrelated creatures.”
Q: You spent years in Myanmar (Burma) studying and teaching vipassana meditation and you became active in the resistance movement there reporting on ethnic cleansing by the military in the 1990s. Aung San Suu Kyi was eventually elected as the nation’s leader, and now reports have spotlighted ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and questioned her integrity. What is your take on this situation?
A: Few people understand who she is and how she operates. She won the Nobel Peace Prize for her feminine inspired role in non violence to confront military dictatorship. Six year after her release from 17 years of house arrest she calls it the next phase of our country’s non violent revolution of the spirit. The next phase is what she’s calling the dharma of national reconciliation. She is empowering reconciliation which means she is in the government with people who tortured and raped her people. She’s saying we’re not even asking for accountability, which is a very powerful psychological stance.
“What has happened with the Rohingyas in the Rahkine state has been happening for five decades all throughout the country. I wrote the book in 1990 called “Burma The Next Killing Fields,” revealing the ethnic cleansing of the Karen Christians on the border with Thailand, endorsed by the Dalai Lama, and the world stood silent.
“For the next 25 years the military government waged war against the Buddhist themselves. 95 percent of all political prisoners were Buddhists. In 2007 when monks and nuns took to the streets to confront the dictatorship, they were brutally killed and imprisoned, and monasteries were ransacked.
“This is what they are doing to Rohingyas. It’s just the latest expression of what they have done for five decades.
“The vilification of Aung San Suu Kyi is so wrong and counter-productive. The military has the majority of votes in parliament, the constitution bars her from being the president, and she does not in any way control the 400,00 solders in that country.
“She has the people behind her, but she’s doesn’t have the power, and she herself initiated the Kofi Annan UN report (Advisory Commission on Rakhine State). They studied the situation. The day after they announced those findings 30 police stations and military check points in the Rahkine state were simultaneously attacked by the ARSA Muslim terrorist group (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) that has openly declared jihad in Burma, funded by Saudi Arabia. It’s all been documented. They have roots in Karachi (Pakistan). The media has not investigated this.
“I think what we’re seeing is a lynch mob consciousness that doesn’t understand she’s trying to not take sides and usher in non-violent reconciliation. She doesn’t want to condemn the military. She’s standing in the middle and it’s a very beautiful role, but it’s hard for people to appreciate that level of nuance.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is an ethical heroine, a courageous lady. She has shortcomings. She says she’s not a saint, she says she’s a sinner who has gone on trying. ‘I’m the first to admit my faults. I have a short temper and I don’t suffer fools or stupid people well.’ This is crap about her being complicit with ethnic cleansing.It’s tragic.”
Q: Finally any particular, worthwhile book suggestions?
A: I’ve been rereading an obscure book called “Psychopolitics” (by Jean-Michel Oughourlian, Professor of Clinical Psychopathology at the University of Paris). It’s a deep dive into the psychoanalytic nature of conflict and war and the vilification of culture based upon unrecognized psychological and emotional patterning. It’s why we do what we do in the name of what we deny. I’ve found it immeasurably helpful to go beyond the demonization of the next big boogie man.
“The fundamental issue I see today is to free the tendency for fear, anger and delusion and to blame others for its arising. For me it’s the most modern expression of spirituality and psychology – how to go deeper into our own consciousness and define unrecognized structures of how we participate in the culture of violence.”
Alan Clements Uncensored: Spiritually Incorrect is presented in the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater on November 11. Tickets: $31, $35, $41 (plus applicable fees).